There is still a great deal of stress and anxiety for those working in agriculture right now, but staff at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection continue to provide resources and “connect the dots” for those experiencing hardship due to COVID-19.

Randy Romanski, interim DATCP secretary, said he continues to emphasize that food is safe and available in Wisconsin, adding that it’s an important message for farmers and consumers alike to hear.

However, one of the top issues at DATCP this past week was related to the supply chain, particularly meat processing, as reports of plant closures rippled across the country and throughout the chain.

“We continue to see some disruptions and are monitoring these and determining how we can help,” Romanski said. “We are working with partners at the state, local and federal levels in the industry to understand the issues that are facing the livestock and meat processing industries and how to keep the supply chain going.”

DATCP is also committed to finding ways to get product off-farm and into the hands of consumers. This past week, the department worked with Wisconsin pork producers to find capacity for market ready hogs. They saw some success too, with 100 hogs moved into the supply chain through smaller meat processing plants in the state.

“These are small numbers to start, but again, we are trying to find a way to work with the industry and the Wisconsin Pork Association to find a place for those animals to go,” Romanski said.

DATCP is also working with the pork producers to discuss “last resort options” for producers who may have to euthanize an animal. The department is working with them and other partners to seek an appropriate resolution for this issue.

“It’s extremely difficult for a livestock producer to make the decision to euthanize an animal they spent so much time and energy caring for so we’re trying to work with them to address that,” Romanski said.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week giving the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to keep meat processing plants open. The department is still reviewing that order and making sure they understand what it means for Wisconsin meat processors.

“The initial analysis that our legal team has done is that it doesn’t really change much of what’s currently happening in Wisconsin,” Romanski said. “Testing is occurring, control measures are being put in place to protect workers and plants, and this is happening in Wisconsin and elsewhere (already).

“The initial read on this executive order is it just sets the stage for some potential future order where the secretary of USDA would have authority to take steps to keep plants open.”

The department has also received guidance from the state treasury department on how Wisconsin agriculture could benefit from the distribution of CARES Act funds, provided by the federal government. Gov. Tony Evers had advocated that agriculture be considered for these funds as it is a beneficial industry to the state, and now it appears some funding will be coming to agriculture, although the majority of the funding will still go to Milwaukee County for health care related items.

Romanski said DATCP will work with industry partners on how to best distribute those funds and how much.

“We appreciate the funding that’s been made available at the federal level so far, but we’ve continued to express to USDA that more resources are needed and will be needed to help farmers and agriculture get through the impacts of COVID-19, as well as the flexibility for the state to direct those dollars where it makes the most sense, where the pain points are the highest,” Romanski said.